The 9 Biggest Military Dirtbags in Movies and Television

John C. McGinley as Sgt. O'Neill in Oliver Stone's "Platoon." (Orion Pictures)

Most U.S. military veterans are uncomfortable with civilians calling them "heroes," but there are a few who should definitely be wary of the term.

While film and television can't accurately portray what it's really like to serve in the military, one thing Hollywood often does get right is the inclusion of one troop who can't carry their own weight. They are the sailor who's chronically late to watch, the soldier who spends more time at the smoke pit than anywhere else or your run-of-the-mill blue falcon from any branch of service.

In real life, these people usually just force others to do their work for them or create more work for the rest of the unit. At worst, they might get a fellow troop injured or killed; in film life, they might get everyone killed.

It probably won't come as a surprise that soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have a specific nickname for these people, a moniker that can be politely replaced with "dirtbag." Here are nine of the biggest military dirtbags ever to grace the silver screen.

1. Pvt. Timothy Upham, "Saving Private Ryan"

What does being "Johnny-on-the-spot with the ammo" mean to you? For Army Pvt. Timothy Upham (Jeremy Davies) in "Saving Private Ryan," it apparently means "let your friends and fellow soldiers get waxed by the enemy." 

Upham started his journey with Capt. John Miller's platoon as a green-but-ready soldier who hadn't fired a weapon since basic training, but he soon gained the (misplaced) trust of his squad. Unfortunately, he ended the journey as a candidate for the Iron Cross after he stands idly by as a German soldier kills a fellow soldier in hand-to-hand combat.

We can't blame him for freezing up when the shooting started at Ramelle, and we might forget he was pinned down trying to get .30-caliber ammo to the machine guns. But we can't forgive him for listening to Pvt. Stanley Mellish (Adam Goldberg) get overpowered by the enemy while doing nothing

If it weren't for the sudden arrival of air support, the Germans would have taken that bridge, Private Ryan would have been killed and the entire platoon would have been wiped out for nothing. If Upham had done his job, the squad might just have held out. When Upham -- spoiler alert -- actually shoots the German, it's not only too little, too late, it's a war crime.

2. Staff Sgt. William James, "The Hurt Locker"

Watch our hero lift 700 pounds of bombs with one hand for no reason while risking his whole team (and a city block). (Summit Entertainment)

If there's one thing the U.S. military doesn't need, it's a reckless explosives ordnance disposal tech who does whatever he feels like doing whenever he wants. It's not about wearing cuffed sleeves (with the insides out) or dog tags hanging out of his shirt, either: Army Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) doesn't communicate with his team in the field, hijacks a civilian driving home from the base while wearing (part of) a uniform, rarely wears any kind of protective gear and keeps evidence of bombs that might have otherwise been used to find the person making bombs.

All of that is objectively terrible, but it's even worse for James, who is the squad's leader. Throughout the entire movie, he displays a general disregard for safety and never sets up security while in the middle of Baghdad. Though he might be OK with losing his own life, there are a handful of other soldiers there who probably want to go home to their families. Good luck, fellas, but Sgt. James doesn't care; he wants to look cool and "die comfortable."

3. Sgt. "Red" O'Neill, "Platoon"

It's hard to be the worst person in "Platoon"; after all, some of the soldiers in this movie are committing literal war crimes while deployed to Vietnam. At least Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger) is doing it because he thinks atrocities are the best way to win the war and keep his men alive. Cool motive, still murder.

But in a unit full of scumbags, O'Neill takes the cake here for a simple reason: He talks a big game, but when it comes to actually fighting, he's useless. The only people he keeps alive are the North Vietnamese. Audiences can take some satisfaction from the idea that he had to take over 2nd Platoon while some of the other troops head back to the world, but we only get to see the look on his stupid face.

4. Maj. Malcolm Powers, "Heartbreak Ridge"

"Heartbreak Ridge" is the story of Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Highway (Clint Eastwood), a Marine who received the Medal of Honor for actions in the Korean War, after he takes over a long-neglected reconnaissance platoon. The first reason Maj. Malcolm Powers (Everett McGill) makes this list is because he allowed the Recon Marines to become undisciplined jerks to make his rifle company look better in comparison. This is an excellent way to get your riflemen killed if they ever have to go into actual combat.

But of course, Powers has never seen combat. Yet, he still gets into a pissing contest with Highway, a seasoned combat veteran of both Korea and Vietnam. It culminates with Powers actually chewing Highway out for taking an objective and rescuing hostages in a combat zone, because he wanted to get his camera before the battle. The real crazy part is that Powers could have had an excellent outfit and stormed the hill in Grenada, if he had just embraced Gunny Highway. Enjoy your trip back to supply, Major.

5. Dave "Captain America" McGraw, "Generation Kill"

There's no doubt that the worst person in "Generation Kill" is Sgt. Maj. John Sixta, but that is for reasons outside of the Iraq War. The least valuable player in HBO's beloved 2008 miniseries is Dave "Captain America" McGraw (Eric Nenninger), who is more interested in war trophies than winning the war. He is also often depicted having some sort of freak-out on the radio or fighting inanimate objects.

In Captain America's defense, he was never supposed to lead a Recon unit, and was actually good at his real military job. A good leader might recognize this and try to learn from the more competent people in his outfit, but not Captain America. He fights with a fixed bayonet and infamously tries to kill an unarmed Iraqi with it -- but fails at that, too.

6. Col. Nathan Jessep, "A Few Good Men"

I hope you can handle this truth: Col. Jessep sucks. For all his bravado and Jack Nicholson's rousing speech during the trial, the only real takeaway is that Jessep only cares about how great Jessep is. He obscures this behind a smokescreen of national security and the need to "man the wall," but don't forget: he was willing to send two Marines to the brig for murder to cover his own ass.

That is the most important point of all. Not only was he willing to let two of his young subordinates go to prison for life, he engineered the beating that turned into a murder. Then, he engineered the cover-up, which led to the arrest of the other Marines who helped him. It all started with a murder he could have prevented by transferring the Marine in the first place. In the end, he still wouldn't take accountability for his own mistakes -- and is legitimately surprised when he gets arrested.

7. Lt. Roget, "Paths of Glory"

Speaking of dodging accountability, no characters actively avoid taking responsibility for their actions like the French leadership on display in Stanley Kubrick's 1957 film "Paths of Glory." Maj. Gen. Georges Broulard (Adolphe Menjou) and Brig. Gen. Paul Mireau (George Macready) are willing to weaken the entire French Army trying to take an insignificant hill during World War I. When the attack fails, they put three innocent troops on trial for cowardice -- and all three face execution.

One is chosen because he's a social outcast; another is chosen at random. But Lt. Roget (Wayne Morris) gets the distinction of being on the list, because he was the actual cause of the failure. Roget, a known drunk, accidentally kills one of his own two scouts in a nighttime recon mission, and to cover it up, he puts the other scout on trial to cover up his crime. At this rate, he's killing more Frenchmen than the Germans.

8. Pvt. William Hudson, "Aliens"

I know, a lot of real-life U.S. troops love Hudson (Bill Paxton), but he's not the kind of person anyone would really want to deploy with. He's outright insubordinate to his leadership, calls the unit "chickensh*t" and is full of bravado. When the titular aliens actually start to attack, however, he goes into a full-on freak-out. In fact, he spends the entire second act freaking out. For each time he calls himself "badass" in the first half of the movie, someone later in the film has to tell him to pull himself together.

His only saving grace is that he eventually pulls himself together and goes down fighting, but not before naysaying every plan the team has for surviving. Game over, man.

9. The United Nations, "Black Hawk Down"

When American forces went out into Mogadishu to capture the top lieutenants of warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid, it was supposed to be a quick raid, but turned into one hell of a rescue mission when two of the mission's support aircraft, Black Hawk helicopters, were shot down over the city. Wounded and exhausted, U.S. troops fought through the night to rescue their downed comrades. But did they really have to?

We don't know how it went down in real life, but in the movie, a Pakistani general was upset at not being included in the raid. It's heavily implied that a United Nations armored convoy took all night to marshal the vehicles and plan an incursion to rescue the Americans because of this. And when they finally came the next morning, they didn't have enough vehicles for everyone, so some of the exhausted troops had to run out of the city -- and the convoy didn't even slow down for them.

Sorry, Pakistan, but that refreshing glass of ice water does not make up for the fact that they just ran a mile out of a combat zone in Somalia. Do better.

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